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Early Dutch goals prolong hosts’ nightmare, claim third place at 2014 World Cup

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A tournament that started with expectations of a sixth World Cup has ended in embarrassment for Brazil, whose defensive failings early in today’s third place match produced the team’s second straight loss. With a late goal from Georginio Wijnaldum build on early scores from Robin van Persie and Daley Blind, the Netherlands claimed a 3-0 win in today’s playoff, leaving the host nation on the wrong end of lopsided defeats to close its tournament.

Brazil came into today’s match in Brasília having suffered its most-lopsided defeat in tournament history, a 7-1, semifinal loss to Germany on Tuesday. Given an opportunity to save some face in the nation’s capital, the Seleçao conceded twice in the first 16 minutes, paving the way to a disappointing fourth place finish.

The Netherlands were on the board in the third minute when van Persie converted a penalty conceded by Thiago Silva. Just past the quarter-hour mark, a failed clearance from David Luiz left Daley Blind with an open shot from 12 yards out, with the defender’s finish high into Júlio César’s goal giving the Dutch early, unneeded insurance.

One minute into stoppage time, a cross from the right by Daryl Janmaat found Wijnaldum just outside the six-yard box, setting up the midfielder for a one-timed finish inside César’s left post.

With the victory, the Netherlands finish its World Cup undefeated, having done 5-0-2 (W-L-D) over the course of seven games. Brazil, on the other hand, went 3-2-2, losing the final two games of its competition.

The Netherlands opened the scoring almost immediately, with van Persie, at the edge of Brazil’s defensive third, releasing Robben behind the defense through the right channel. Silva, attempting to cover from his right-center back position, was late getting to the Dutch attacker and intentionally pulled him down from behind, just outside the penalty box. Committing a pair of apparent mistakes, referee Djamel Haïmoudi pointed to the penalty spot while only producing a yellow card for Silva. Van Persie’s ensuing conversion had the Netherlands up in the third minute.

source: AP
Daley Blind, center, celebrates with Bruno Martins Indi, right, after scoring his side’s second goal. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

Thirteen minutes later, the Dutch doubled its lead, with Blind given too much time from near the penalty spot to beat César high and into the right of goal. Despite replays showing the Netherlands may have been offside in the buildup to the goal, Blind took advantage of a weak clearance from Luiz, whose header of a cross from the right found Blind open in front of goal.

On the brink of a second calamity, Brazil recovered, proving the more dangerous team over the half’s final half-hour, but only able to register one, long-range shot on Jasper Cillessen, the host nation went into intermission own two goals.

As play resumed in the second half, so did Brazil’s control, but shots on Cillessen were still hard to come by. Near the 70-minute mark, as Brazil started to push 60 percent possession for the match, the hosts had only managed two shots on target, with the Dutch’s five-man defense able to stop the Seleçao’s attacks as they reached the edge of the penalty area.

Brazil finally appeared to have generated a chance in the 70th minute when Oscar was taken down in the right of the area by Blind, who was stretchered off the field moments later with an apparent left knee injury. Haïmoudi, however, produced a yellow card on Oscar for dividing, leaving Brazil without a chance from the spot.

Over final, merciful 20 minutes, Brazil continued pushing toward the Dutch goal, maintaining hopes the Selecao could get on the scoresheet, if not salvage a result. Those hopes, however, couldn’t generates chances for the home side, who proved no more successful in the match’s last moments than they had since conceding the first two goals. Once Oscar saw yellow, the remainder of the match become it denouement, with Wijnaldum’s 91st minute finish completing the Dutch’s 3-0 romp.

With the final whistle, Brazil’s chance at redemption had gone, and if anything, the performance in Brasília only validated what had happened against the Germans. Whereas four weeks ago Brazil were picked to redeem 1950, the last five days have added another nightmare.

For the Dutch, however, the win caps once of the tournament’s surprise performances. Picked by many to exit the competition at the group stage, Louis van Gaal’s team claimed five wins in seven games, derailing Spain, Chile, Mexico, and Brazil along the way.

Though van Gaal will now moves back into the club world, he leaves his national team with new momentum. When Guus Hiddink takes over, he’ll inherit a squad of young but experienced players – players who’ll be able to leverage their surprise success at Euro 2016.

LINEUPS

Brazil: César; Maicon, Silva, Luiz, Maxwell; Gustavo (Fernandinho 46′), Paulinho (Hernanes 57′); Ramires (Hulk 73′), Oscar, Willian; Jô

Goals: None

Netherlands: Cillessen (Vorm 92′); Kuyt; de Vrij, Vlaar, Martins Indi, Blind (Janmaat 70′); Clasie (Veltman 90′), Wijnaldum, de Guzman; Robben, van Persie

Goals: van Persie 3′, Blind 16′, Wijnaldum 91′

Rafa Benitez to have total control at Newcastle, including player sales

NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND - MAY 15:  Rafa Benitez Newcastle United manager reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Tottenham at St James Park on May 15, 2016 in Newcastle, England. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty images)
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Usually, when teams are relegated to the Championship, squad salaries must be reevaluated to make ends meet, often meaning the axe for players who are deemed too costly.

That won’t be the case with Newcastle next season.

With manager Rafa Benitez back on board with the hopes of navigating the Magpies back to the Premier League as quickly as possible, owner Mike Ashley has handed Benitez the reigns.

Benitez confirmed he will have complete, unmitigated control of the squad roster in exchange for his services.

“What I have is the assurance that if I don’t want to sell any players I don’t have to,” Benitez said in his second unveiling as Newcastle manager. “We can keep all the players who we want to.”

But that’s not all. “For football business I will have responsibility. But the main thing is that I have had assurances we will have a strong team. We will have a winning team and the fans have to be sure I will try to build a strong squad. If I am sat here it is because I am sure we can do it. To clarify I am a person who likes to talk. But if I have to take responsibility I will, no problem.”

This is not only big news for anyone relegated to the Championship, but especially big news for a Mike Ashley club. Not even Sam Allardyce or Alan Pardew were given this type of total control of the club. Ashley knew he had little leverage with such a big name having fallen out of the Premier League, and he needed to make concessions to get his man.

Fernando Torres, back from the depths, can become a Champions League leader

VALENCIA, SPAIN - MAY 08:  Fernando Torres of Atletico de Madrid looks on during the La Liga match between Levante UD and Atletico de Madrid at Ciutat de Valencia on May 8, 2016 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
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His days in England are well past him. From Liverpool superstar to Chelsea flop, the unconventional route the 32-year-old’s career has taken has all led to this.

Yes, Fernando Torres has a Champions League winners’ medal, but it did not come in the fashion many believed he was destined for when he peaked at Anfield. A shell of his former self at Stamford Bridge, he was second-fiddle to fan-favorite Didier Drogba during the 2011/12 run Chelsea made through the competition. Ridiculed by plenty all across England for his YouTube-worthy misses and sleepy performances, Torres was run out of Stamford Bridge with just his medal to accompany him.

“This is the most important game of my life,” Torres emphatically claimed Wednesday morning ahead of Saturday’s final against Real Madrid in Milan. “A chance to write a page that has never been written in 113 years of Atlético’s history. I have the chance to make my dream come true, a dream I had as a kid, to win this cup with this club”.

Torres does not speak as if this is his team, because it is not his team. Despite his dominance at Liverpool, Torres will never be a standout player on a Champions League final caliber squad. Those days are well in the past. Now, Torres knows his place in the squad, an important cog in an engine with no one part more valuable than the other. Such is the way of Diego Simeone.

“I knew I was risking everything by coming back here to Atletico Madrid,” Torres said. “A lot of people thought it couldn’t get better for me here, but I knew the group I was coming into. I knew this group was destined for something big and I wanted to be part of it.”

For all the praises Simeone gets for his teams’ fitness, grit, and defensive prowess, bringing Torres back from the depths of obscurity might be one of his most underrated achievements. The ridicule Torres was forced to endure towards the end of his time in England can break a person. But Torres somehow managed to stay afloat despite the demons lapping at his ankles, and Simeone pulled him ashore. Now, reborn, Torres has finally shown flashes of his former self that only Anfield remembers. Across April and May, Torres bagged six goals and two assists in eight appearances – all starts – to close out the La Liga season. The Spaniard also fed the ball that sprung Antoine Griezmann free for the goal that won the semifinal against Bayern Munich.

No longer a star but still a valuable piece of the puzzle, Torres is right where he belongs. While his time with Chelsea brought him that medal so many legends in the game fail to achieve, he knows now is where his legacy will truly be judged. “The past can only help you get better,” Torres said. “We only think about Milan, which is the present.”

The key word being “we.” For his entire club career, the narrative surrounding Torres had always been about himself, from superstardom at Liverpool to the abuse he suffered after. Now with a “we” to fall back on, it’s time for Torres to play the most important game of his life.

Copa America 2016 preview, Group B: Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Haiti

Brazil's Willian, left, and United States’ Alejandro Bedoya contend for the ball during the first half of an international friendly soccer match Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
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Brazil

They’ve won five Copa America titles with the last in 2007, but in their previous two Copa campaigns Brazil hasn’t made it past the quarterfinal stage. Despite not having captain and talisman Neymar around they’ll be one of the favorites this summer.

Star player: Douglas Costa – The winger was in fine form for Bayern Munich this season and along with Willian he will be a real threat in support of Hulk.

They will sweep all before them because… They have a huge number of talented attacking midfielders who can rip teams apart on their own. Together it could get rather silly. Expect them to be in the final four.

Really, though, Dunga will be on the hot seat in July: The one thing that stands out about this team is the lack of goals. Only one player in the entire squad has double figures (Hulk, with 12) and anything less than winning a major title is always treated with despair by the Brazilian population. If they don’t win either Copa America Centenario or the gold medal at Rio 2016, Dunga will be under big pressure.


Ecuador

LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA - MARCH 28:  Miguel Layun of Mexico (L) fights for the ball with Antonio Valencia of Ecuador (R) during a friendly match between Mexico and Ecuador at Memorial Coliseum Stadium on March 28, 2015 in Los Angeles, United States. (Photo by Omar Vega/LatinContent/Getty Images)
(Photo by Omar Vega/LatinContent/Getty Images)

Man, Ecuador is due a good Copa America performance. They haven’t made it out of the group stage since 1997 and have finished in fourth place twice.

Star player: Enner Valencia – After returning from injury in the final 13weeks of the season we saw just how important he is for Manchester United. That was from right back. Valencia will play in a more advanced role for Ecuador and provides bags of experience.

La Tricolor will go far because of forwards: Goals. Goals. Goals. Ecuador has a ton of talented attackers in its squad. Enner Valencia and Jefferson Montero will be dangerous and through the first five 2018 World Cup qualifying games they’ve scored 12 times and sit second in the table.

Likely heartbreak warning: With top scorer from World Cup qualifying, Felipe Caceido, out injured, Ecuador has been dealt a huge blow. They seem to always be the nearly men.


Peru

Paolo Guerrero, Peru

They’ve won the tournament twice in their history and last summer they were the surprise semifinalists who finished in third place. Anchored by a strong defense, they’ll be hoping to cause another upset.

Star player: Paolo Guerrero – He is their main man up top with 26 goals in 67 appearances. If Peru has a chance in the box, they want it to fall to him.

They will be the darlings of the tournament: If they get off to a flying start against Haiti in Seattle then we can expect big things. Confidence will be key ahead of the final game against Brazil.

Goals will be the big problem: They scored just twice in three games during the group stage last summer and somehow made it through. They will have to do more than that this time out and if they don’t beat Haiti, it is curtains for their knockout stage hopes.


Haiti

Gyasi Zardes, Frantz Bertin
AP

This will be their first-ever appearance in the Copa America and after their successful Gold Cup campaign in 2015, who knows what’s possible? They will fancy their chances of advancing despite all the odds stacked against them.

Star player: Johnny Placide – He shone for Haiti during the Gold Cup last summer and their goalkeeper will be another busy man. A beast.

Beware of the underdogs, they’ll get you: As we saw last summer, we shouldn’t underestimate Haiti. They only lost to the USA 1-0 and beat Honduras on their way to a quarterfinal exit to eventual runners up Jamaica. They will keep it tight and try to grind out wins.

Tight isn’t good enough: As they’ve found out in World Cup qualifying, you have to do more than hang in there. They haven’t scored a goal through four games of 2018 World Cup qualifying in CONCACAF Group B and sit bottom of the table. Placide will have to come up big this summer if they’re going to produce something special.


Game schedule – Full schedule for Group B, here

Who’s going through, who’s going home: Brazil, Ecuador going through; Peru and Haiti going home

Marquee match: I’m going with Brazil vs. Ecuador on June 4 at the Rose Bowl. This two will go at it to try and take control of Group B. Should be a fun one. 

Top players to watch

1) Douglas Costa
2) Willian
3) Antonio Valencia
4) Paolo Guerrero
5) Johnny Placide

French security chief: Strikes won’t threaten sports events

MARSEILLE, FRANCE - OCTOBER 28:Tens of thousands of the French workers protest as the Unions in France launch new strikes against the pension reform plan on October 28, 2010 in Marseille, France. This is the seventh day of protest for French workers angry at the Government's proposed pension reforms. Nicolas Sarkozy, however, has not wavered in his plans to increase the state pension age from 60 to 62 and last night the National Assembly passed the bill.  (Photo by Patrick Aventurier/Getty Images)
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PARIS (AP) France’s interior minister says violent labor protests and strikes causing gas shortages won’t jeopardize the upcoming European Championship or other sporting events.

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About 1,500 people have been detained in recent weeks and hundreds of police officers have been injured in breaking up protests and dislodging protesters from fuel depots.

The tensions have added to concern about security for Euro 2016, already facing what Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve called the “double threat” of violent Islamic extremism and hooliganism.

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Cazeneuve told reporters Wednesday that the government respects the right to strike and does not see the labor movement as a “threat.”

He said it won’t disrupt protection of the June 10-July 10 championship, involving an unprecedented 90,000 people ensuring security.